About half of the UK’s young drinkers are unaware of health messages or warnings on alcohol packaging, according to new research.

The study, led by the University of Stirling and the Cancer Policy Research Centre at Cancer Research UK, focused on the extent of which those aged between 11 and 19 were aware of such product information.

When it came to recalling the total number of health messages, 47% of those who identified as “current drinkers” said none – answering “don’t know”.

For recalling one health message, the figure was 41% but then dropped to 9% for those who could recall two warnings.

The number fell again to 2% for three pieces of information and just 1% – five respondents – recalling four health messages.

Dr Nathan Critchlow, research fellow in Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing (ISM), led the study which he said “provides a timely and unique insight that will help inform these debates”.

He said: “We explored awareness of such information and differences between population groups and different levels of alcohol consumption, such as whether a young person currently drank alcohol or not.

“In particular, only around half of current drinkers were aware of such messaging, despite being an important target market for this information.

“Recall of specific messages was also low; almost half of young people were unsure what messages they had seen and most specific messages were only recalled by a minority of young people.

“This included those related to drinking guidelines, health effects or alcohol being an age-restricted product.”

Only a third of the 11-19 age group recalled seeing such information on alcohol packaging in the past month.

He added: “In the UK and internationally, there are frequent calls to increase the visibility, comprehension and effectiveness of labelling on alcohol packaging.

“In particular, critics often point to the statutory steps taken for nutritional labelling on food and drinks, or health warnings and messaging on tobacco products, and ask why alcohol labelling – which is self-regulated by the industry – is not as progressive.

“The Scottish Government has also included a commitment in their latest strategy to consider mandatory labelling if the alcohol industry does not improve visibility and clarity by September 2019 while the Republic of Ireland already have plans to introduce similar legislation.”

Co-author Dr Jyotsna Vohra, Cancer Research UK’s head of cancer policy research, said: “Beyond the fact that children are drinking underage, it’s worrying that only half can recall seeing important health warnings.

“What is just as concerning is that many of these labels don’t give all the information the CMO (Chief Medical Officer) says they should, including highlighting the risk between alcohol and cancer.

“Alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer in adults and is responsible for over 12,000 cases annually, yet only one in 10 people are aware of this risk.

“The more a person drinks, the greater their risk of cancer. This is why it’s important to do more to reduce drinking in the UK.

“All labelling must also clearly note that people should not drink more than 14 units per week.

“While not everyone who drinks will go on to develop cancer, there’s no harm in cutting down.”